I Feel Good*

WinningThere’s a special sense of satisfaction that fictional detectives (and I would guess real-life ones, too) get when they solve particular cases. Of course there’s always the sense of a job completed. But when the culprit is highly-placed (and so, protected), for instance, or the case has been especially difficult, there’s an even greater sense of satisfaction about solving it. And detectives are human. It’s hard not to feel that sense of ‘Gotcha!’ It makes detectives just a little more human when we see that side of their personalities.

In Agatha Christie’s Lord Edgware Dies, for instance, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are approached one evening with an unusual request. Famous actress Jane Wilkinson wants to be rid of her husband, the 4th Baron Edgware, because she wants to marry the Duke of Merton. She says her husband won’t consent to the divorce and asks Poirot to try to convince him otherwise. Poirot agrees and he and Hastings pay Lord Edgware a visit. Oddly enough, he says that he’s withdrawn his objection and won’t stand in the way of a divorce. Poirot tells his client as much and there the case seems to end. But that night, Lord Edgware is stabbed. Chief Inspector Japp is assigned the case and of course, Jane Wilkinson is the prime suspect. But twelve people are prepared to swear that she was at a party in another part of London on the night of the murder. So Poirot and Japp have to widen their net, so to speak. In the end, and after two more deaths, Poirot finds out who killed Edgware and catching the person gives him special satisfaction because the killer


‘…dared to make me, Hercule Poirot…cat’s paw.’


He does not take kindly to that role.

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Roseanna introduces readers to Stockholm police detective Martin Beck and his team. The body of a young woman is dredged from Lake Vättern and at first no-one knows who she is. There’ve been no reports of missing people who fit her description and she had no identification. After a great deal of work and a lot of time, the young woman is finally identified as twenty-seven-year-old Roseanna McGraw, an American tourist who was on a cruise when she was killed. It takes an even longer time to slowly put together the pieces of the puzzle to find out exactly who killed her. But even then, there’s not the kind of conclusive evidence that will hold up in a court case. So Martin Beck and the team lay a trap for the killer and that trap proves especially risky for one member of the team. But after more than six months of work, a lot of ‘brick walls,’ and some very dangerous moments, the killer is brought to justice. Add to that the fact that the killer is not a particularly appealing person with an understandable motive for murder, and you can see why Martin Beck feels such satisfaction:


‘Here comes Martin Beck and it’s snowing on his hat. He walks with a song; he walks with a sway! Hello friends and brothers; it squeaks underfoot. It is a winter night. Hello to you all; just give a call and we’ll go home to southern Stockholm! By subway. To my part of town.
He was on the way home.’  


It’s clear that this is more than the usual catharsis that a detective feels at the end of a case.

Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip is the story of Charles ‘Chaz’ Perrone and his wife Joey. Perrone is at least nominally a marine biologist. He’s been hired by Samuel Johnson ‘Red’ Hammernut, who owns a large commercial farm in the Florida Everglades. Hammernut’s farm has been dumping toxic waste in the water and he’s been threatened with lawsuits and harassed by environmental activists. He needs proof that his farm doesn’t pollute the environment and Perrone is the right person to get that evidence. Perrone has come up with a way to make water test results look ‘clean,’ and his services are most definitely ‘for sale.’ So he and Hammernut make a fairly good team. That is, until Perrone’s wife Joey begins to suspect what’s going on. When she threatens to go to the authorities, he pushes her overboard during a cruise they’re taking. But Joey Perrone is a champion swimmer who survives and ends up being rescued by former cop Mick Stranahan. Together they come up with a plan to make Perrone believe that someone saw him push his wife overboard, and is now blackmailing him. In the meantime, local police detective Karl Rolvaag is investigating what he thinks is Joey Perrone’s untimely death (since he doesn’t know she’s been rescued). As he gets closer and closer to catching both Perrone and his wealthy employer, it’s easy to see why both he and Joey get an immense amount of satisfaction from what happens to Perrone.

In Donna Leon’s Through a Glass, Darkly, Commissario Guido Brunetti and his team investigate the sudden death of Giorgio Tassini, who worked as night watchman at a glass-blowing factory. At first, his death looks like a tragic accident with one of the glass-blowing ovens. But it’s not long before Brunetti begins to suspect that this was not an accident. One of clues he starts with is that Tassini claimed that the local glass blowing factories violate the laws against toxic waste dumping. In fact, he blamed that dumping for the fact that his daughter has several special needs. Brunetti does find out who Tassini’s killer is, but that person is highly-placed and has a lot of ‘clout.’ Brunetti’s own boss Giuseppe Patta, who likes to toady to the rich and powerful, is very reluctant about this investigation. What’s more, there isn’t a lot of clear evidence to support Brunetti. So it’s going to be very hard to bring the culprit to justice. But then, a casual conversation gives Brunetti exactly the evidence he needs to prove that the killer is responsible. Nothing gives him greater satisfaction at the end than to


‘…ruin the Vice-Questore’s lunch.’


Now he’s got what he needs to catch even a very well-protected criminal. 

In Angela Savage’s Behind the Night Bazaar, Bangkok-based PI Jayne Keeney travels north to Chiang Mai to visit her friend Didier ‘Didi’ de Montpasse. While she’s there, Didi’s partner Nou is murdered. The police theory is that de Montpasse is responsible. When they come to question de Montpasse, he ends up dead and the police claim that he violently resisted arrest and they had no choice but to shoot him. Keeney believes none of this and, mostly to clear her friend’s name, resolves to find out what really happened to the victims. Slowly, Keeney finds that there is a connection between these deaths and the Thai human trafficking and sex trades. The people involved are protected, so it’s hard to believe that an arrest will be made. But Keeney is determined to make it clear that de Montpasse was innocent. All wrongs are not righted in this novel, but it’s clear that Keeney gets a great deal of satisfaction when she confronts the person who has been protecting the criminal. The outcome of that confrontation is also quite satisfying.

And then there’s Andrea Camilleri’s The Dance of the Seagull. In that novel, Inspector Salvo Montalbano’s colleague Giuseppe Fazio disappears while he is investigating illegal activity. When Montalbano realises that Fazio may be in great danger, he and his team start to pick up the investigation trail Fazio left. The case involves the Mob, smuggling and some ruthless people, and Montalbano knows that the team’s only chance of finding Fazio is to catch the criminals he was chasing. Then, one of their primary witnesses is murdered. Now there’s even more pressure on the team. It doesn’t help matters that the group is up against a well-protected and highly-placed enemy. But in the end, Montalbano does catch the criminal. I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that the arrest is most embarrassing for the criminal and most satisfying for Montalbano.

Very often the work of solving crimes is thankless, and even though there is satisfaction in a job well done, the endings are certainly not always happy. So it’s nice once in a while when the detective can get a special satisfaction from catching a culprit.



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from James Brown’s I Got You (I Feel Good).


Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Camilleri, Angela Savage, Carl Hiaasen, Donna Leon, Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö

28 responses to “I Feel Good*

  1. Your post, Margot, brings to mind one of my favorite Bony mysteries by Arthur Upfield, “The Clue of the New Shoe.” In all the books, Bony is proud of always finalizing a case, but in this one, justice is tempered by Bony’s sense of what is right and wrong – and what is merciful. So he comes up with two solutions – an official one, which will satisfy the authorities and the real solution, which satisfies both his sense of justice and his sense of mercy. It is a beautiful ending – the chapter is called “Bony’s Greatest Triumph” – and I do recommend it to you. (Oh great, another add to the TBR list… 😉

    • Les – I’m always happy to have another recommendation from you. I do like the Bony series very much, so reading another is no chore at all. And you’ve reminded me in this particular comment of an Agatha Christie novel where the sleuth does exactly the same thing…

  2. I was thinking about ‘Roseanna’ just now re most post I’m writing. The ‘gotcha’ moment really is quite disturbing especially in relation to the young police woman. A very clever book.

    • Sarah – It is a disturbing scene isn’t it? And yet, it’s well-written and as you say, such a clever book. Those two were able to write powerful stories without being gratuitous…

  3. Lord Peter Wimsey often feels unhappy about solving a case – because of capital punishment, or because the villain is sympathetic, or because he thinks that his own interference caused more crimes. So it’s nice that solving Strong Poison saves the life of a woman he loves, and although she won’t accept him for a long time, they will be happy together. So that’s a satisfying ending!

    • Moira – It is indeed! And even though Sayers doesn’t take a lot of time over it, you really can feel the satisfaction when the real killer of Philip Boyes is unmasked. I do like that aspect of Strong Poison very much.

  4. Margot: Your post set me thinking in the opposite direction to the feeling of a defence counsel winning an acquittal at trial, especially in a jury trial. The high from hearing not guilty is only matched by the low of guilty. Yet in many legal mysteries such as The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly and Murder One by Robert Dugoni the joy of acquittal is taken from the defending lawyer to further another twist in the plot. Winning criminal trials is hard. I find it frustrating and deflating when lawyers cannot savour their success.

    • Bill – I can only imagine what it must feel like to win that acquittal – or to hear the ‘guilty’ verdict. And especially if the opposing counsel is skilled, it must be very hard to win a criminal trial. It’s only human that the attorney would want to celebrate that success. And it’s interesting that there aren’t that many legal novels I know of where the reader sees that. And as you say, in novels such as The Fifth Witness, what you see instead is a plot twist. I ought to do a post on the outcomes of trials and how people react actually. It’s an interesting topic.

  5. I really like the sound of Skinny Dip and can see why that would be such a satisfying conclusion. I think I’ll put this on my TBR pile 🙂

    • Rebecca – It really is a funny novel. Screwball isn’t everyone’s taste, but I think Hiaasen is very talented, and I like the characters in this one. I hope that if you get the chance to read it, you’ll enjoy it.

  6. I think I’ve read too many noirs, where the detectives feel far more ambiguous about bringing somebody to justice… although Dorothy Sayers already anticipates that.

    • Marina Sofia – She does indeed. And you’re right that it’s often characteristic of noir that the sleuth is ambivalent about a case. Sometimes of course that’s entirely appropriate and serves the plot well. Sometimes it’s nice thought to have that feeling of ‘gotcha.’

  7. In the first few books in Hakan Nesser’s van Veeteren series the murderers were very sympathetic characters. The victims were evil and van Veeteren felt no joy in solving the crimes, in fact from memory in one he took justice into his own hands.

    • Norman – Good memory! And you’re right about the first few Van Veeteren novels, too. I think Nesser often invites the reader to have sympathy for the killer, so it’s harder to get that rush of satisfaction.

  8. Haven’t read “Lord Edgware” for ages…will have to reread. Poirot definitely doesn’t like being played for a fool…it make him very angry! Good example of taking personal satisfaction from catching the culprit.

  9. I am reminded again that i need to read SKINNY DIP.

  10. More books to read after such a fascinating piece. Where am I going to find the time? As usual interesting food for thought. 🙂

    • Jane – Thank you. And I know exactly what you mean about not enough time to read all the books one wants to read. Wouldn’t it be lovely if they paid one to spend one’s days reading, having a cuppa now and then, and reading some more?

  11. Poirot’s accent becomes stronger when he is duped 😀

    Another fascinating post, Margo. I really don’t know where you gain the inspiration!

    • Glynis – Now that’s an interesting observation! He really does change the way he speaks depending on what’s going on, doesn’t he? I ought to do a post on that alone. Thanks for the idea and the kind words. 🙂

  12. As I looked through the books I have read recently, I was surprised at how few had cases where there was an outright win for the police or real happiness at the outcome. But I did come up with two that I read relatively recently.

    In The Yard by Alex Grecian, the primary detective is new at his job and doubting his abilities, so the closing of the case is a confirmation of his talent and a real relief. In The Square of Revenge, by Pieter Aspe, Commissioner Van In has been not been given any high profile or interesting cases for a long time, for various reasons, and the case that he and his “partner” Hannelore work on is a renewal of his enjoyment of his job and his belief in his abilities.

    • Tracy – It’s interesting isn’t it that there aren’t a whole lot of cases where there’s an outright ‘win.’ I suppose that reflects real life, but it’s nice sometimes to see the satisfaction of a ‘real win.’ Thanks for your recommendations too. I’ve heard they’re quite good and you’ve pushed me to put them on my list.

  13. Col

    Hat tip to Hiaasen – I need to read him again soon. One of the funniest writers on my shelf!

  14. Margot – Thanks for mentioning ‘Lord Edgware,’ one of my AC favorites. A truly formidable foe, even though Poirot wins in the end. And, at the other extreme: I don’t know if it fits the ‘gotcha’ meme but I think of Mickey Spillane’s formula of rough justice dished out by Mike Hammer, which apparently a lot readers found satisfying.

    • Bryan – I’m glad you mentioned Spillane and Mike Hammer. I think quite a lot of readers did get a vicarious sort of satisfaction from seeing Mike Hammer best the ‘bad guy.’ I think it’s human nature to want to (re)impose order, and when Hammer uses his form of justice to right wrongs, there’s a sense of that for lots of readers.

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